Math instruction in Norway and Finland – what typical discourses and technologies are prominent in the classrooms?

Associate professor Marte Blikstad-Balas, University of Oslo

Drawing on a large sample of video recorded mathematics lessons from Finland (Swedish-speaking Finnish schools) and Norway, I will compare patterns in instruction in lower secondary school across these two contexts.

The data material contains four consecutive mathematics lessons from 46 different schools in Norway, and four consecutive lessons from 7 different schools in the Helsinki area. Key questions in the presentation are what the main methods for learning mathematics are across all these classrooms, what kind of discourse is prominent in lessons and finally to what extent the teaching of mathematics includes digital technology.

There are several interesting findings I will discuss with examples. First of all, the teaching across classrooms – as expected – contains a lot of seat work where students are expected to solve tasks. However, the students are doing more seatwork in the Helsinki classrooms, and for longer periods of time, than in the Norwegian classrooms. As one of the students in a Helsinki classroom stated it: “All we do is sit here and solve tasks!”.

In line with this finding, there is less mathematical discussions and mathematical whole class discourse in the Helsinki classrooms. In fact, a preliminary tendency when it comes to discourse in general, is that the Helsinki-classrooms are more focused on mathematical content, and the Norwegian classrooms are more focused on discussion and mathematical concepts.

When it comes to the use of digital technologies, there are also differences. While Norway has defined digital competence as a key competence across the curriculum since 2006, there is little systematic use of digital resources to be found. Some classrooms may use specific sites such as Campus Increment (developed for flipped classroom instruction), but most of the teaching happens without the use of digital tools (other than instances of teachers’ PowerPoints with instructions).

In the Helsinki classrooms, 4 of the 7 schools use the digital textbook (with tasks) matematik.fi. Both in Helsinki classrooms and in the Norwegian classrooms the digital and game-like app Kahoot is used for mathematical quizzes. Students seem to enjoy this, and teachers may even use Kahoot as a bonus at the end of the lesson.

In both contexts the use of technology is rather passive in the sense that the digital tools take the role of providers of knowledge. In line with other studied, there are few – if any – instances where students use technology to actively create mathematical knowledge themselves. Further, the students are not exposed to a multitude of (sometimes competing) mathematical explanations available through the Internet, rather they use the same sources repeatedly. Thus, the use of technology in these lessons can be characterized as rather narrow.

I will also show how the use of digital tools in some cases results in technical, procedural discourse focusing solely on how to perform different actions with a computer (for example how to find particular sites, how to “save as” and so on.)